Carcasonne’s Medieval Treasure

Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, which has numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times, with major additions made in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Carcasonne is an easy 90-minutes east of Toulouse

We had an easy drive to Carcasonne, which loomed dramatically above us as we approached. We installed ourselves in our Airbnb rental and walked to the nearest restaurant for lunch. Which turned put to be a real jewel: tables in a large shaded garden, with a modest number of customers and friendly waiters.

L’Os ou l’arete cassoulet was outstanding

Everything was perfect! The food was memorable, the service friendly, and our hours-long lunch languid and relaxed. I had the regional specialty, cassoulet, which features white beans, duck, and sausage, roasted for hours. Incredibly tasty, and paired well with a local pilsner. We spent the rest of the day and evening in a virtual food coma and spent the time doing laundry and taking care of business online.

Castle and ramparts loom above us

As it happens, a set of very steep stairs at the end of our street leads up to paths that ascend to Carcasonne’s walled city and we managed the climb without too much effort. We took a self-guided tour through the castle and all long the city’s ramparts, which was fascinating. The Middle Ages were brutal and defense was paramount, as reflected in the many fortifications. It was a work-out, too, as we ascended and descended many steps, circular stairs, and changing levels.

Carcassonne became famous for its role in the crusades when the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of the Papal legate, abbot Arnaud Amalric, forced its citizens to surrender. The people of Carcassonne were allowed to leave—in effect, expelled from their city with nothing more than the shirt on their backs. What a horrible fate.

Vegetable soup starter

Our fate after leaving the castle, of course, was much better and we suffered no privations, as the rest of the walled city is packed with modern tourist shops and restaurants. We were lucky to have escaped our touristic compulsions lightly, emerging with just half a dozen postcards. It’s a Saturday but crowds were light, which was a very good thing; I can imagine a crowded, hot, summer day here would be stifling. We ate a marvelous lunch at a place called Le Saint-Jean, in an outdoor area adjacent to the castle. The local Ortola wine perfectly complimented our meals.

My comrades are out foraging for tomorrow’s breakfast, after which we head for Nimes and its remarkable Roman ruins. Thanks for coming along!

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